2 Corinthians 5:11 – 21
Did you see the news this morning?
Former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and PM Julia Gillard, have put their differences behind them and are working together in a new era of cooperation slated to give Labor the edge in the upcoming Federal Election.
Only days after unveiling her new-look Leadership Team, formed in the wake of Simon Crean’s failed coup, Prime Minister Gillard has pulled off another re-shuffle, or mid-course correction, installing Kevin Rudd as Deputy PM and creating for him the new office of Special Minister of State for Home Affairs.
Ms Gillard said that she and her new Deputy PM had, quote “Completely resolved their differences”, and would be both “campaigning and governing together, for the benefit of all Australians.”
When asked by reporters how the 2 leaders could possibly be reconciled in the light her “knifing” of Kevin Rudd and his subsequent leadership de-stabilisation, Ms Gillard refused to acknowledge any previous animosity between the pair, simply responding “A strong and united Labor leadership, is necessary for a strong and united Australia.”
Of course that wasn’t in the news this morning!
I just made that up
Nor is it likely to be in the news any day between now and the Federal Election, is it?!
Reconciliation isn’t that easy!
Reconciliation, the drawing together of former enemies,
The uniting of those who were once apart, it doesn’t happen just like that!
If there is reconciliation between people who are adversaries, well, then it’s hard, and it’s costly.
Many of us know that from our own experience.
We might have been in relationships that have been torn apart,
We might have stood and watched, perhaps helplessly, as relationships between people we love and care about have disintegrated,
And we wish there was some easy fix, but we know that reconciliation is hard and costly.
And yet perhaps, some of us haven’t given this much thought before but those relationship struggles we see, and for which we wish there was a simple solution, those relationship hurts are actually symptoms of a broader problem.
And as great as those needs for reconciliation are,
As much as we feel the pain of separation and estrangement, pain, which, for some of you, I know, goes with you every day, in your life,
Easter says, there is a greater need for reconciliation,
There’s a need for reconciliation between us and God.
Easter shows the need for reconciliation with God
I was reading this week about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, set up in the years after apartheid.
Its goal was to restore relationships,
For animosity to be done away with,
For those people who were separate, that’s what “apartheid” means actually, separated, being apart, those people who were apart, to be brought together, that’s reconciliation, isn’t it?
So for the Bible to talk about our reconciliation with God,
or our need for reconciliation with God
It means that we’ve got a problem of estrangement, separation,
The writers of one of Australia’s most listened to songs, are currently embroiled in a legal dispute, over song-writing credits.
Neighbours, Everybody needs good neighbours
With a little understanding
You can find the perfect blend
Neighbours . should be there for one another
That's when good neighbours become good friends
The problem is, the former husband and wife who wrote those words, not only can’t be husband and wife any more, the fact that they’re now only talking their lawyers, suggests they probably couldn’t even be neighbours, let alone good neighbours
And while I wouldn’t presume to be able to put my finger on the cause of that estrangement, or say who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong,
When it comes to analysing the cause of our estrangement from God,
The separation from God that every person who has ever lived as known and experienced,
We can pinpoint the reason and the fault with absolute clarity.
The Bible is crystal clear.
Flick back a couple of pages to that passage in chapter 5 of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, and look at how he describes the universal human condition.
See there in verse 8, But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Or verse 10, we were God’s enemies
That’s not really how we like to think of ourselves, many of us, as sinners, God’s enemies.
The Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius who reigned about 100 years after Paul wrote these words to the church in Rome, he once said “Live a good life.
If there are gods and they are just, they will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by”,
You can expect a welcome from God, he says!
But the Apostle Paul couldn’t be more clear, could he?
Marcus Aurelius might like to think of himself as a fine upstanding citizen, “the last of the 5 Good Emperors”, they call him, and his picture of God, was as someone who you could please, through living a good life,
But Paul uses that very unpopular word, “sinner”, which just means someone who is living in God’s world, but living as if God doesn’t exist!
And that makes us God’s enemies, he says!
No welcome based on the virtues you’ve lived by,
Every single person in the world, left to their own devices, is God’s enemy,
Living in God’s world, but with no acknowledgement of God, despising God’s chosen king, Jesus.
If that’s how we’re living, we’re estranged from God, and facing the due penalty for living as God’s enemies.
So we need to be reconciled to the God who made us.
God acts for reconciliation
But there’s good news!
Look with me if you will, back in 2 Corinthians 5, from verse 18, Paul’s been speaking about his ministry, what he does as an apostle, going round talking to people about God’s chosen king, Jesus,
The way that his life has been changed, All this is from God, he says, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.
Firstly, did you notice, that God acts for reconciliation.
All this is from God,, Paul says, who reconciled us to himself
Elsewhere in the Bible, Paul describes sin as being like death: You were dead in your sins, he says.
For a while I worked for the Department of Anatomy at the University of Adelaide. And my job meant working with the bodies of people who had died, and donated their bodies to science.
And so day after day, I’d be in a room, surrounded by maybe 20 or 30 dead bodies. I guess at one level, it was something that takes a bit of getting used to, but actually, it was pretty straight forward because, well, nothing ever changed.
They never did anything.
The bodies never did anything that surprised you or caught you off guard!
They never jumped out of the way when you pulled out your scalpel!
When you’re dead, you can’t do anything for yourself.
When we’re dead in our sin, we can’t do anything to restore our relationship with God.
If there was to be any movement or change in those bodies, we the staff had to do,
If there’s to be any reconciliation in our relationship with God, God has to do it.
The Apostle Paul is the only one of the authors of the New Testament who uses the verb “reconcile”, and do you remember from grammar at school, active voice, and passive voice.
Active voice:, I reconcile,
Passive voice:, I am being reconciled.
You might remember that, if you learnt grammar at school!
And any time in the Bible, that Paul is speaking about reconciliation and he uses the active voice, God is the subject, never us.
And anytime he uses the passive voice, being reconciled, humanity is always the subject, never God.
Now, I don’t mean to confuse you, with stuff that that most of us have already forgotten from school, but I do want us to see that in the Bible, God is always the one who reconciles.
I was on an evangelistic mission in Sydney once, with a bunch of uni students, and we met stacks and stacks of people, and had lots of really great conversations about Jesus,
And I met one lady, who said me to “I don’t celebrate Easter or Christmas at all”, and I asked “Oh, why is that?”
And she answered, “Because I don’t celebrate Hallmark occasions,”, and she went on to explain her theory about how there was no such thing as Easter until the Hallmark Greeting Card Company came up with the concept in the early 1900s to sell cards, or something like that!
But do you see how clearly Paul says that’s not the case!
Easter is God’s idea!
All this is from God
It’s God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, verse 18,
Same thing again in verse 19, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ
And if Paul makes such a point about God doing the reconciling,
Repeating it over and over,
It’s not like he says, “Well God kind of takes the initiative, and then we do a bit, and then God does a bit more, lays a bit more of the groundwork, for us to take a step towards him”,
It’s none of that, is it?!
It’s “God reconciles”,
And if that’s the case, what can we suppose about our own efforts?
Our efforts are completely excluded, aren’t they?
Our attempts to make ourselves pleasing to God,
Our attempts to cover over the sin in our lives,
Our attempts to make amends for the way we’ve lived in God’s world with no thought for God, No allegiance to Jesus as God’s chosen king,
Marcus Aurelius’ best efforts at living out a virtuous life,
Those efforts, don’t even make it into the discussion!
Did you ever get an encouragement award at school?
You know, the kids who were actually good at something got a prize, but you were no good at it, so you got an encouragement award? Maybe it was just me!
And actually now being a parent and wanting to encourage my kids, I see those encouragement awards a little differently now, but when I was a kid, I thought it was just to make you feel good about the effort you put in!
Well our efforts to find God, or bring ourselves to him, don’t even get us an encouragement award!
All human effort is excluded.
Our reconciliation with God, it’s God’s initiative, and God’s work.
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself in Christ.
Actually, you’d think, if there was some other way, for the gaping chasm between us and God to be bridged, don’t you think God would have taken it?
If our sin and rebellion against him, could have been dealt with some other way, other than God sending his Son into the world, to suffer and die, for his enemies, as we read in Romans 5,
If the problem could have been solved by us getting our act together a bit,
By us going on a “spiritual journey”,
By us “turning over a new leaf”,
Don’t you think God have gone down that path?
Because the cost of reconciliation, for God, was huge,
Since God acts for reconciliation in Christ.
God acts for reconciliation in Christ by paying the price for sin
See that’s what Paul goes on to say, God acts for reconciliation in Christ, by paying the price for sin himself.
Still in verse 19, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.
Like we said with Kevin and Julia, reconciliation has a cost!
And Romans 5 told us that we weren’t like Kevin and Julia, maybe competing colleagues, we were God’s enemies, because of our sin.
But because of Jesus’ death in our place,
Because he took the death and separation from God that we deserved,
God is able to not count our sin against us.
The reconciliation that we receive from God in Christ, is not just that God kind of grudgingly, overlooks our sin.
It’s not like he sort of, “well, if I just look the other way, I won’t see your offence against me”, and if I don’t see it, then we can be reconciled.
Sin has to be dealt with,
It can’t just be overlooked, swept under the carpet.
If God, not counting people’s sin against them meant that God just looks the other way when people murder,
And prey on children,
And abuse others,
Well he wouldn’t be any kind of God at all, would he?
He wouldn’t be a God that we want anything to do with?
In fact the English Puritan Pastor John Owen, who lived around the time of the English Civil War, he once wrote that any reconciliation with God that didn’t allow for God’s settled anger and opposition to sin to be expressed, would be a “reconciliation hopping on one leg!”
Sin must be paid for,
Those who do evil must be called to account,
And that’s the same whether it’s the sin and evil that fills the pages of our newspapers, or the sin and evil in people’s hearts, as they live happily in God’s world, taking good gifts from God’s hand, but refusing to honour God as the creator and ruler of the good world they live in.
Not counting people’s sins against them cannot mean, that sin is overlooked, or tolerated
What it means is explained in verse 21,
Why can God not count people’s sin against them and yet still maintain his settled opposition to sin and evil?
Because he pays the price for sin himself,
Because, verse 21, God made him who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God
God doesn’t count our sin against us.
God counts it against Jesus.
Our reconciliation with God comes through the removal of our sin,
The removal of our sin from us, and the putting of our sin on Jesus.
But the language is even stronger than at,
At Easter we might talk about Jesus dying for the world,
Christians might talk about Jesus dying for sin,
Christ became sin
And yet Paul here, ramps up the strength of the imagery, God made him who had no sin, to be sin for us,
Yes it’s true that Jesus died for our sins,
That he died as a sacrifice for our sin,
That he suffered the consequence of our sin,
But God’s goal in reconciling us to himself is expressed there at the end of verse 21, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God
And if righteousness, which we saw last Sunday, means that God has declared us to be in right relationship with himself,
God makes a pronouncement, “You are guilt-less”, then to be made sin, is the opposite of that,
To be treated as guilty,
To be judged for sin,
To be deemed worthy of death and separation from God.
God himself, in Christ, pays the penalty for our sin.
We can be reconciled to God, because God chooses not to reckon our sin against us,
Rather, he reckons it against the one that he himself provided.
It’s an accounting concept:, Not in this column, but in that column,
It still gets paid,
But paid by God himself in Jesus Christ.
And because the reason for our estrangement and separation from God has been dealt with,
Anyone who is in Christ, verse 17, has had that penalty for sin completely paid for in Jesus’ life and death,
We’ve been transformed from God’s enemies to his friends, Romans 5,
It means this is a real, lasting reconciliation,
That penalty isn’t sitting somewhere in a pending column, waiting to see where it’s actually going to be allocated, who is going to end up paying the penalty for sin and rebellion?
No, if you trust in Jesus for forgiveness and reconciliation with God, the reconciliation you enjoy with God isn’t a temporary truce,
It’s not a short-term cessation of hostilities,
The drama on the Korean Peninsula has been in the news again these last few days,
At the end of the Korean War, the UN-brokered armistice called for and I quote, a “cessation of hostilities, until a final peaceful settlement is achieved." And one article I read this week pointed our rather ominously, that as of today, no final peaceful settlement has been achieved, and if you believe the North Koreans, the war is back on!
That’s not the kind of reconciliation that God achieves for us in Christ.
No, the reconciliation that God offers us, is completed, through Christ’s work on the cross,
It is the ultimate treaty of peace, not some temporary cessation of hostilities.
It is once and for all.
Because our sin is no longer counted against us,
The separation and estrangement are gone!
There’s no accusation against us any more,
And God can welcome us, not as his enemies, which we once were, but as dearly loved children, and as partners in his work of reconciliation.
God acts for reconciliation in Christ by paying the price for sin, through people!
See God actually draws us into his work of reconciling people to himself
Yes, God achieved reconciliation that first Easter,
On the cross,
By taking away sin,
By counting it on Jesus so it doesn’t get counted on us,
But having achieved that, in history, now the way he works towards other people receiving that reconciliation, is through us!
The very people who have received reconciliation.
God acts for reconciliation in Christ, by taking away sin, and he acts through us!
See verse 19, And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us
But even, actually, the earlier part of verse 19, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ
God reconciled the world to himself, in Christ, we know that, and yet Paul’s language makes it clear that that work of reconciliation continues. Notice that he uses the present tense, reconciling
God continues to reconcile people to himself, in Christ, and the way that he does that, is through people,
People who were once God’s enemies, but who heard and understood the message of reconciliation, and therefore have become Christ’s ambassadors.
I was thinking this week, about various people who were formerly enemies of someone or something, but then, changed sides, were reconciled, and became ambassadors for that which they had formerly opposed and rejected.
And the clearest example I could think of, was the Apostle Paul himself!
He persecuted Christians,
He was an enemy of Jesus,
He tried to stamp out the good news, the message of reconciliation with God through Jesus’ life and death and resurrection,
And yet, in God’s kindness, when he came face to face with Jesus, and realised that here was God’s chosen king,
The one that God’s people, Israel, had been waiting for for centuries,
He grabbed hold of the offer of reconciliation with God with both hands, and becomes perhaps its greatest ever ambassador!
And this isn’t a role just reserved for Apostles,
Anyone, who has had the message of reconciliation entrusted to them,
Anyone who speaks the message of reconciliation, is an ambassador.
That is, if you’re a Christian, you’re an ambassador for Christ.
If you’re Australian, it doesn’t automatically make you the Australian Ambassador, does it?
If I print up business cards, “Clayton Fopp, Australian Ambassador”, and start giving them out, it won’t be too long, I imagine before the Federal Police start knocking on my door.
At one level, I guess, the Australian Government would like to think that every Australian is an Ambassador for Australia,
That when any of us go overseas, or speak to people visiting from other countries, that we commend Australia, or represent Australia well.
But being an ambassador is more than being just a good advertisement isn’t it?
Paul Hogan was a good advertisement for Australia, years ago, but he wasn’t the Australian ambassador!
The Apostle Paul pictures an ambassador as someone who speaks a message, on behalf of the one sending them.
Verse 20, means it’s as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God
As Christ’s ambassadors, we’re commissioned to speak his message of reconciliation.
The rules for ambassadors under international law were established at the Congress of Vienna, in 1815, and ambassadors are described with the unusual term “plenipotentiary”, which, as it happens, is considered one of the 10 English words most difficult to translate into other languages, but it means “having full powers”
They have full power to create a message, to make agreements that are binding on the person or government sending them.
Well that’s not us is it?
That’s where the ambassador illustration comes to the end of its usefulness.
The message entrusted to us, is not one that we have freedom to change,
There is no alternative!
The means of reconciliation with God are through Christ, by paying the price for sin, nothing else!
How to have an encounter with God
When we speak that message,
From a pulpit,
Across the lunch table in your workplace,
Sitting next to someone on the bus,
Spoken to little children balanced on your knee,
When you speak that message, you are fulfilling your role, as Christ’s ambassador.
We might think, “being an ambassador for Christ, Surely that’s a role reserved for some kind of spiritual high-achiever”
Jesus says to you, and to me, “You are my ambassador. When you speak the good news, you speak for me.” Even to the point, do you see that, verse 20, that when you call on someone to consider Christ, it is as though God himself was making that appeal directly to that person!
When you speak of the good news of Jesus, the hope you have for eternity,
The confidence you have, that you have been reconciled to God, because of Jesus’ death in your place,
When you say those things, and you invite your friend to consider that message for themselves, God considers that he has just personally extended an invitation to your friend, to join him for eternity.
Have you ever had someone tell you they want an encounter with God? That’s popular language these days!
Here’s the way to give them one, tell them the good news of Jesus.
That is God making a direct appeal to them. That is Christ appealing to them, through you, his ambassador and representative.
Maybe this morning you’re the person on the other side of the conversation!
Maybe you want an encounter with God.
Perhaps you’re here today, “I’ll go to church at Easter,” you say, to have some sort of encounter with God.
Well, do you know what?!
You didn’t have to!
You didn’t have to come here!
Oh, we’re really pleased you did! I get what a big deal it is to walk into somewhere like this, some place where you’re out of your comfort zone, and so thank you for coming!
But you don’t have to come into this building in order to have an encounter with God.
All you need to do is find a Christian person, and say to them, “Tell me what you believe!
Explain to me, please, what does Bible say about Jesus, and his death in my place?,
Tell me what it means that God made him who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
And if that Christian person explains to you God’s message of reconciliation,
If they take you to the Scriptures,
If they read the Bible with you,
Then you’ve had an encounter with God!
God himself has spoken to you!
What I want to do to finish, is change tack a bit,
We’ve talked about what reconciliation is,
And why we need it,
How God is able to reconcile us, and still be just and punish sin,
How he entrusts that message to all of us, who have heard it and believe.
What I want you to do now though, is consider the God, who offers this reconciliation,
If you’re not a Christian, please consider, what kind of God would go to these lengths, to offer you reconciliation, while you’re living as his enemy,
If you are a Christian, I want you remember again the God who reconciled you to himself.
I have a son, Jamie.
Some of you know him.
I love him very much.
I would not, willingly or knowingly, send him to his death, to save anyone, not even any of you! As much as I like you.
What does that say to us of about the love of God?,
That God made him who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.